Title: The Dog Runner
Author: Bren MacDibble
Published by Allen and Unwin
RRP: $16.99

A mysterious red fungus had poisoned all the grasses and crops. There is very little food available now and it seems everyone is out for themselves, not caring who they hurt or harm while doing so. When Ella and Emery’s father goes looking for Ella’s mother, who has not returned from her work for months, they decide to leave the city with their three big dogs. Emery trades their last batch of ANZAC biscuits for a sled and supplies. He also gains two more dogs, and the two youngsters set off with the five dogs, up country to where Emery’s mother lives with her parents. Much of the novel is their journey, hard and arduous, but these are two tough kids and with their dogs, they are formidable. But when Emery is seriously injured, Ella is not sure if she can go on.

This is a masterfully written adventure story for middle school readers. The characterisation is superb, even the dogs are easy to get to know! The presence of place is acute, I felt I was on the track with these two heroes, felt the dust and the desolation of a land without grass. The theme of the importance of food security, of looking after our land and learning from and listening to indigenous owners, penetrates throughout. After witnessing the devastation of drought many times, this fictional world described by Bren MacDibble is a little too close for comfort.

I have said this is for middle school readers, but older students will also get much from the story. This book would make a great read aloud, encouraging much discussion on various topics. I look forward to sharing this with my students, it will join my other books for when I talk about books featuring dogs. Perfect!

Book talk

Ella and Emery have set off from the city up country to Emery’s mother’s place. Their father has gone looking for Ella’s mother who has not returned from work for months. The country is in turmoil. A red fungus has killed all crops and grasses and very little food is produced. Emery trades their last batch of Anzac biscuits for equipment for travel, and two extra dogs. The equipment includes a dog-sled, something Emery and his father are very good at, as they already have three dogs.

With the cart, supplies and dogs, Emery and Ella set off across country. But things are tough and there is a lot of meat on five dogs. Ella and Emery must keep them safe, as well as themselves. They try and keep away from people but that is not always easy, as they are unable to hide their tracks in the dust. Not before long they are pursued by two men on motorbikes.

Read top page 96 to end of chapter, page 99.

It’s dark and they have to find Emery, if he is still alive.

Teaching Notes

Comprehensive teaching notes for The Dog Runner are available for download from this link.

Other dog books you might enjoy

Spud by John Heffernan
A firm favourite for boys at my school, in all year levels.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
Set in Russia, Feodora sets of with her dogs to help rescue her mother.
Read my blog post here, including review, book talk and suggested teaching activities.

The Dog with Seven Names by Dianne Wolfer
Read my blog post about The Dog with Seven Names here, including review and suggested teaching activities.

What are some of your favourite dog reads?

Many thanks to Allen and Unwin for supplying this book for review.